Friday 6th June – Part One of my feedback on the Pre school Learning Alliance National AGM / Conference 2014   2 comments

I attended last years Pre school Learning Alliance AGM and Conference and wrote two blogs about my experiences



I had a great time – and as I blogged at the time – I said I hoped I would be able to attend the next conference. So when the booking information first came out I made sure, I made parents of the children I childmind aware that I would be taking the day off – and as usual they were all very accommodating and put in place alternative childcare arrangements. I saved up the conference fee and in due course I booked my place.

I was really looking forward to attending – not least because since the 2013 AGM/ Conference, I have become even more involved with the Pre school Learning Alliance;

I am now Chair of the Worcestershire Sub Committee – having been voted in at the Worcestershire AGM in Sept 2013, and we have had several committee meetings, produced our first newsletter and held our first Meet and Greet event

I attended the National Forum meeting in London and helped shape the new strategic plan, and got to know some of the staff and Trustee’s of the Alliance.

I have attended several meetings with Neil Leitch (and others) in connection to campaigning against Government proposals. including one with the Early Years Minister Ms. Truss – where I managed to be even more vocal and outspoken than Neil

I have been a signatory (in my own name) to letters that Neil has signed as CE of the Pre school Learning Alliance

And I have continued to communicate regularly with Neil via email and phone calls about campaigning issues and the Alliance’s childminder membership package.

And I was one of the people who supported Neil’s nomination for Nursery Management Today 2014 Power 20 awards

So fair to say things have moved on a bit since last year – and The Alliance is now a huge part of my life.

There were a few last minute hitches to my planning as a new foster child joined my family and as with all new foster placements, the first few days are a bit up and down and need time and patience; plus on the day itself – it took me considerably longer to actually leave the house than it normally would.

Anyway I made it to the station and caught a slightly later train than I had planned to – which meant I missed the connecting train and had to stand around waiting for 30 mins – freezing cold, as in my rush to leave the house I had forgotten to pick up either coat or cardigan.

Still I made it to Birmingham International station just before 9am, and walked to the hotel where the conference was being held – luckily the same one as last year. En route I spoke to some ladies who had not been before and needed directions and to a couple of Alliance staff who were positioned along the route to ensure members did not get lost.

I was welcomed warmly by staff and given my goody bag – then directed to the exhibition and coffee. I grabbed a coffee and some biscuits – especially welcome as I realised in my rush in leaving, I had not actually had my breakfast – although I had had my medication, so I added some extra packets of biscuits to my handbag which as it turned out was a good decision.

I then had a look at the exhibition stands, telling myself that I would not buy any new resources – difficult as there were so many lovely things. Still, much to my own surprise I did manage to keep  my purse in my handbag and did not buy anything or even order anything!!!

I met Raj – who works for the Alliance and who supports the Worcestershire sub committee, we hugged and greeted each other warmly. Raj introduced me to the staff from Clickety Books, who specialise in resources for building speech, language and literacy skills.  I had a chat with them and hopefully they will be able to provide a workshop for Worcestershire sub committee’s next AGM – subject to the committee agreeing to it, when we  discuss it at the next committee meeting.

I had a chat to Bridget on the Alliance publication stand, and had a bit of a catch up. I also spoke to staff on the volunteer stand and the supporting two year olds stands – picking up free publications from both. The publication that I am most looking forward to reading is the ‘Changing Lives, Changing Life’ book which is about the pedagogical perspective of the Pre school learning Alliance, because I know my own life experiences and the influences on my personal ethos will be interwoven into the words that I read.

I chatted briefly to Jo who is Raj’s manager and who therefore also supports Worcestershire sub committee (and who as I mentioned in last years blog – I used to work with in the past in Worcestershire Early Years and Childcare Service). I also chatted to a couple of other people who I was meeting for the first time – and whose names I still do not  know due to poor memory about names and also to the very small wording on the name badges making visual reinforcement of names very difficult ( and speaking to some of the men present – they said made things a little difficult / embarrassing as they tried to read the names badges pinned to  female colleagues chest area)

I then left the exhibition area (before temptation became too much) and stood in the reception area. I spotted Neil Leitch chatting to some people, he spotted me and after a while came over, and greeted me with his usual hug and air kisses. We chatted for a short time before he was called away to talk to others.

I also spoke to Shannon who is the editor of Under 5 – the Alliance’s member magazine. Hugs from Shannon as well – making me feel like part of the ‘Alliance family’. Shannon introduced me to another member of staff – and afraid another name that I have not remembered. I chatted to Shannon for quite a while because although we have communicated via email it was the first time that we had met in person.

A lady with a clip board came over and told me that I was to sit at the front – no idea why – and wondered if – as my first name is the same as one of the workshop leaders – if there had been some confusion?

Next to have a chat was Estella – Neil Leitch’s PA and who is recognised as being the person who actually holds everything together and makes sure Neil is organised.

After that, as it was nearly time for the conference to start , I stood in the reception area and chatted to some of the trustees – again I was made to feel part of the Alliance family. I had met some of them at the National Forum – and it won’t surprise you the reader, to know that I could not recall all their names. I will try to remember in the future.

I then went into the conference hall and to the front rows as directed – I asked Janette, who is Chair of the Trustees were I should sit and she indicated the second row back. A lady, who I thought I recognised came forward and said much the same thing to me – she thought she recognised me! It turned it it was Jane Payler who is chair of TACTYC (which for those who don’t know is the Association for the Professional Development of Early Years Educators – information can be found HERE  – and as aside taking a look at the the website I realised that I have not yet joined this organisation – so I have now printed off the membership form to do so). Of course once I realised who Jane was, I knew why I recognised her name – it is through my connection with Save Childhood Movement and my SCM colleagues who are members of TACTYC. I had a chat with Jane before she had to go and speak to others.

Just then a large group of Chinese visitors arrived in the hall and Janette asked me if I could move up so that the Chinese visitors could sit together – which of course I did. The Chinese visitors were present because the Alliance are now working in partnership with the Chinese – exciting times ahead.

The conference then started and we were welcomed by Chair of the conference Graham McMillan – who is one of the Trustees. We were told that Nick Clegg , the Deputy Prime Minister was unable to be with us all, as he was attending the D Day celebrations – however he had recorded a video address – which we watched.

Nick Clegg’s speech via the video sounded very positive and supportive of childcare practitioners – and the Alliance, but I was not convinced that overall – as a sector we would be fully listened to by the Lib Dems.

Next to speak was Neil Leitch  – I knew that this was going to be a difficult speech for Neil to make and would be quite emotional –  because Neil had discussed some ideas with me previously and told me what his speech would be based on.

However before the emotional bit, we had the serious bit – Neil is very passionate about what he does and his role within the Alliance – and this shone through his speech – once he had got the ‘big head’ bit out of the way – the bit about winning the Power 20 award in the Nursery Management Award – and the story that I had already heard about what happened when Neil returned home late after the awards night – where his partner had had none of the ‘big head’ stuff, and put him in his place.

Neil spoke about the ratio success but also about the things the Alliance was still campaigning about, including Ofsted, complaints, inspections. Neil questioned why Ofsted / DfE / Government do not apply their own guidance and recommendations about consulting and making decisions. I have to agree with Neil – as recent consultations have been useless; asking closed questions, not always having comment boxes, short time scales, released over holiday periods, released in quick succession, so people don’t really have time to complete them fully – if at all.

And then to cap it all – even when people do respond and say they don’t agree with the Governments proposals, the Government either don’t bother to release the results or decide that they won’t take any notice of public opinion, or sector opinion or even research based evidence.

Ofsted inspections and the ‘school readiness’ are of course some of the main concerns at the moment, and Neil spoke about some of those letters, and early years manifestos that I mentioned earlier that both he as The Alliance CE and me as myself , have been involved with. He said that members should make no mistake – as The Alliance will continue to shout very loud to ensure that every child has the best possible start to their early years. In my view this means are all able to meet their full PERSONAL potential  (which is somewhat different from being school ready or  exam / test results – as human beings have so much more potential in so many other areas).

Neil also talked about Childminding Agencies – and certainly as a Ofsted Registered Childminder – and someone who works closely with Neil around this issue, I can not stress enough how strongly Neil (and the Alliance) are against childminder agencies, nor can I understate how much he advocates on behalf of all childminders and not just those who are Alliance members.

In case you are not aware The Pre-school Learning Alliance does now offer a specific childminder membership and childminder insurance. If you are interested in finding out more take a look

Towards the end of his speech, Neil spoke about his son, a lucky boy who has two loving parents and everything he needs, but who is still concerned about who would look after him if Daddy and Mummy were unable to – Neil’s emotions bubbled to the surface – but he was not the only one with tears in his eyes – and I am sure that everyone in the conference hall valued, his honesty, his passion and indeed his bravery in telling a story that he knew would be difficult. As he does so well, Neil linked his story to that of parents with a child whose life could not be more different from that of his son.

I  know Neil said a lot more but these points above are the ones that stuck in my mind – as of course – as usual I was not taking notes (and reason for poor memory will become clear later).

Next to speak was Norman Lamb, who according to the programme is Minister of State for Care and Support. Norman had stood in for Nick Clegg because as already mentioned Nick Clegg was unable to attend. I am afraid I switched off a bit during Norman’s speech because a bit like Nick Clegg’s video address, I considered it to be a party political presentation which did not tackle the real issues or offer any real alternative ideas. It was of course all positive sounding but I find that these days I tend to look beneath and behind the words presented.

Following Norman, was Dr. Jane Payler, Chair of TACTYC, who I spoke to earlier. Jane gave a presentation that I almost entirely agreed with; which was about appropriate early years experiences especially for our youngest children, about enabling environments, and about the need to ensure high quality early years provision.

Next bit is of course personal opinion – The only aspect of Jane’s presentation that I struggled with, was the bit about degree qualified early years professionals providing the best early years care and education. It is not that I don’t agree that degree qualified professional  provide good early years experiences and outcomes – I know that in MOST cases they do – but it is not a given fact.

Also the biggest problem from a personal point of view as someone without a degree – it is not a given fact that those without degrees cannot provide good early years care and education – as some can. The problem is that there is hardly any data to prove or disprove this fact, the Early Years Foundation Stage profile does not gather data about children’s previous settings / experiences, never mind breaking down which early years settings are good at which aspect of learning and development. There is a lot of data about schools and maintained nurseries but there is no data about the other early years experiences that children experience in addition to a maintained nursery or a school reception class, and so on.

Questions are not asked or data kept about level of qualifications of staff in those other early years settings that a child may have attended, in terms of the Early Years Foundation Stage Profiles – and in many cases the children spend less time in a maintained nursery class or even a school reception class than they do in other settings – and children may spend far more hours per week in the care  of a registered childminder.

Add to that the fact that experience, non certified CPD, drive, passion, commitment, common sense, and natural instincts,  all can and do make a difference to the quality of experiences offered and outcomes.

Add the fact that children learn in different ways, and at different times

Add the fact that inspections are not the same across all sectors and that there are huge variation between inspectors and judgements of those inspectors; it is easy to see how comparisons are difficult.

Therefore as far as I am concerned the data is not yet complete and therefore the conclusion can not be made that degree qualified professionals provide better opportunities or outcomes in all cases, or that  early years professionals without degrees  don’t.

And best not get me started on the whole should all children be in day care and having a formal curriculum – because that is a can of worms – and I don’t agree that children who stay at home are disadvantaged just because they don’t attend an early years setting – it is their other life experiences that make them disadvantaged – such as poverty, domestic violence, abuse of any substance and more – but being at home with their parents is not the route cause of disadvantage per sec

As I say though on the whole I agreed with what Jane was saying and will be joining TACTYC.


Moving on the next speaker was Lucy Powell who is the Shadow Minister for Education. I do like Lucy because as a mum of three young children she has her feet on the ground and her own real life experiences to draw on – indeed she told the conference hall, that she was late arriving as she had had to drop her 3 children at 3 different child care settings before travelling from Manchester to Birmingham. Lucy spoke about Labours achievements in the past – and admitted that they had not always got it right; she spoke about how much she values childminders – I was warming even more to her – BUT THEN she mentioned getting women – MOTHERS into work to create a tax revenue. I may be missing the point but if you need mothers to work to pay tax, so that can pay for support for childcare –  isn’t it a bit of a pointless exercise? Would it not be better to enable all parents but especially mothers to have a real choice about if work and use childcare or if stay at home and care for their children themselves?

So I am afraid I switched off a bit at this stage and had a word with the person next to me who clearly disagreed as much as I did about the whole ‘getting mothers into work’ agenda.

There was time for some questions – the one that stuck in my mind was the one about the cost to Government of the Youth Offending Service – huge amounts of public money spent trying to undo the damage in terms of self esteem, social skills and much more. The point made was that a short term extra investment could pay itself back many times over if we did not need to fund an ever increasing budget for youth offending services.

As a foster carer I know it goes much, much deeper than this – as the budget for fostering services is eye wateringly large – and so much more could be done to stop these children ending up in foster care, by addressing the route causes of disadvantage.

After the serious stuff – it was time for the bit of the conference that I really like – The Volunteers Awards.

Amanda Lamb did the honours – as she had last year – and as with last year it was the children who caught my attention – one little girl in particular was a delightful inquisitive soul, who explored every thing that she could and at every opportunity.

This year there were joint winners for the awards – and I could see why. How could anyone choose between such worthy nominations? One thing that really struck was the age of those winning the awards – and their passion and commitment to the children that they care for. I have to ask – in the future will we have such dedicated professionals who have given a life time worth of volunteering to improving outcomes for children? And maybe the current drive to get parents, particularly mothers into work, will have the unintentional side effect of reducing, if not totally removing the number of willing, professional volunteers, who have the resources in terms of time and energy – to take on such roles? The Government and those in opposition really do need to look at the bigger picture.

Half way through the Volunteers Awards, I realised that I was starting to go into a hypo – partly due to not managing to eat breakfast and partly due to the fact that the morning session had gone over time a bit. However disaster was prevented due to having my glucose tablets in my bag – and those conference packs of biscuits that I had put in my bag earlier on – and the caring words of the person sat next to me, enquiring if I was ok.

Neil had some surprise presentations of flowers to make – and did a good job of reducing 2 ladies almost to tears! The two ladies in question were Janette Parker who was standing down as Chair of the Board of Trustees after holding this position for 3 years, and Rita Sutton who has decided  to leave her position within the Alliance in a couple of months time. Both ladies gave heartfelt speeches and it was clear that both will be very much missed by staff, trustees and members.

I will end part one of my personal feedback here, and will pick up with part two later covering the lunch break , the AGM and the workshop that I attended.



Posted June 8, 2014 by psw260259 in Pre School Learning Alliance

2 responses to “Friday 6th June – Part One of my feedback on the Pre school Learning Alliance National AGM / Conference 2014

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  1. Pingback: Friday 6th June – Part Two of my personal feedback from Pre School Learning Alliance AGM / Conference | Penny's Place Childminding

  2. Pingback: Inter professional working – When, where and how is this taking place? | Penny's Place Childminding

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